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E6AG on Niue – The Wrap Up! (Part 1 of 2)

Well, the time has come to wrap up my E6AG DXPedition. I have been back home in Australia for a few weeks now and am very much missing my temporary home on the Pacific island paradise of Niue. So the aim of this post is to recap the events as they unfolded, on what was my first attempt at an international DXpedition. Perhaps this will help others starting out for the first time like I was. At the very least, I hope it encourages others to visit Niue, and most importantly take their amateur radio station with them. After all, I still need Niue in my own logs back home (chuckle).

Where did it begin?

Back in March 2016, about the time that the VK0EK Heard Island expedition was slated to go live, I finally decided to find out what this HF world was all about (after some 30+ years as a licensed amateur). 2 weeks later I worked VK0EK on 40m RTTY – my only contact with them. Somehow, that was enough to fire the imagination. It was my first serious brush with an expedition pileup, my first RTTY DX and my first contact with IOTA all rolled into one. I was hooked!

Then in October 2016 I dipped my toe into IOTA portable operation, with the activation of Kangaroo Island (OC-139). This was my first, albeit a very tame expedition, as I could take the car ferry 90 mins south of home onto the island and rent a holiday house for the duration. This was also a family holiday and was my first brush with the need on such trips to maintain balance between family and radio. 300+ contacts and 6 days later I returned to the mainland. A modest effort, but a fun one none the less given I was only running a multi-band dipole and 60-100W.

So Why Niue?

2017 then rolled around, and I had been thinking about what to do next. Another VK5 expedition to Flinders Island, OC-261 was considered, but was shelved when logistics for a 2 week stay with the family started becoming difficult (and a 30km boat crossing of the Southern Ocean to the island with my 4yo daughter in a smallish boat didn’t in the end seem like a good idea). That expedition incidentally is still on the books, but for when she is a little older and we can fly onto the island in a light aircraft.

So, the days kept marching by, and we reached May 2017 still contemplating plans for Flinders Island. While looking at how it might be made to work, my wife inspired me with the simple line – “well if getting to Flinders Island is hard, try something else bold!” She may have instantly regretted it, as I started consulting Clublog’s most wanted and then cross referenced it with airline schedules whilst dreaming of a remote tropical island. I hit upon Niue as a Pacific Island destination, simply because I had never worked it or heard it from home in the 18 months I had been on air, it was pretty close to the top 100, and I realized it was relatively easy to reach by air (thanks to Air New Zealand who fly A320 Airbus aircraft there once a week, as well as their daily service to Auckland from Adelaide).

The further I looked, the more appealing it became. We could rent a holiday house that would permit me to setup my antennas, reciprocal licensing was possible, and for the family, it really did look like the ideal tropical hideaway holiday. On presenting the idea, and a rough budget (which was way under done in the end) my good wife agreed, and planning began in earnest.

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (the 5 ‘P’s!)

June 2017: The Radio Station & Licensing

The first thing I had to decide upon was what equipment to take and most importantly devise an antenna solution that could pack down to less than 20kg. I initially estimated 3 bags would be required to get the transceiver, amplifier, power supplies and antenna out to the island. Here is where Steve VK5SFA came to my aid, with an offer to loan me his portable folded mono-pole, which was good from 40m – 6m. An ingenious design, it gave me a ground isolated, resonant, full size tune-able vertical covering 30-6m with a resonant 40m 1/4 wave folded vertical on 40m. I didn’t think I had the weight capacity for anything more so in the beginning 80/160m were not considered.

For the radio equipment, I was looking at Elecraft gear, something I had used in contest stations in the past and knew well. I was lucky that a K3 and a KPA500 came up second hand in VK4 that matched my budget and my requirements! I wasn’t confident my old trusty TS-690 had the legs to survive such a trip.

Meanwhile, after consulting with several amateurs who had previously operated on Niue, I determined who I needed to contact to to obtain my reciprocal amateur radio license. It turns out Niue Telecom is the issuing authority for all radio communications licenses and the people there were extremely helpful and supportive of my endeavors. I want to express a very heartfelt thanks to Farm Tukumulia who helped me with the process (contact me if you want his  details). I was then allocated the call-sign E6AG and was set! (Current amateur call-signs must all come from the series E6A according to Niue Radio regulations presently I am told.)  Now for the next stage!

July 2017: Accommodation and Flights Secured

The next challenge was securing flights and accommodation. I decided also to make an effort to work the CQ WW RTTY contest from Niue, as digital modes from the island were flagged as rare on CLublog. The fact that I am a big fan of digital modes probably helped my decision there too! This meant looking at dates around the middle of September. We also had to find suitable accommodation, somewhere where we would be allowed to setup a radio station. Always an odd request, it was made difficult of course by not knowing the location at all. Again researching previous expeditions proved useful and contact was made with a couple of amateurs who had been there before. Joe N7BF and Maurice ZL2MF were most helpful with contacts and location suggestions whilst on the island. Of course this also had to be a family friendly holiday destination, so renting a house was preferred.

What I found was perfect. Kaliki Lodge owner Glenda was happy for me to setup a radio station in the house. What’s more, it had all of the amenities needed for the family. With 3 bedrooms, we could have one set aside as the radio shack while the others were for sleeping. It turned out much later that another amateur, Lance W7GJ, had in fact previously based himself there too – which explained why Glenda had a working knowledge of Amateur Radio. Lance had operated his 6m EME station as E6M from Kaliki Lodge on Niue in 2012! It was looking like we were on a winner!

AirNZ A320 flies to Niue Once a week

Having settled on the accommodation, flights were the last major thing on my list. My initial budget had assumed economy airfares would be possible all the way, looking like about $3,200 return from Adelaide for the three of us. The standard terms on the Air New Zealand website were that additional 23kg bags could be added for a modest fee. So I had set my goal of taking 6 bags, three for the station and three for the family. Then it came time to book….

This is where it pays to read the fine print on a per route basis. I discovered I couldn’t add the extra bags to my flights online. On ringing Air New Zealand, I learned that because of the distance from NZ to Niue, the flight is weight restricted so standard excess baggage was not available. The only way forward was to purchase their Works Deluxe packages, which gave a spare seat between each passenger, and mercifully an extra bag per passenger. It came at a cost however – about $1,900 worth. I sheepishly went and talked to my good wife and explained the predicament. Upon getting the green light to go anyway, we went and booked the house and the flights. Now we were set with no turning back! (and travel insurance at this point of course becomes mandatory!).

Incidentally, later on the trip, we realized there was a real upside to the tickets we purchased. The Works Deluxe package gave us access to priority check-in and boarding. When travelling with my 4yo daughter and 70+kg of equipment, the little extras like having the Auckland Airport Air-NZ check-in lounge call staff NZ customs for us to clear the equipment Carnet took a lot of the stress out of travelling.

Staging through New Zealand

The other complication I faced was the need to stage the trip through New Zealand. The flights from Adelaide connecting with Niue didn’t work, so we needed an overnight stay in Auckland. In the end we elected each way to spend 2 nights and a day in Auckland to make the transits less complicated and tiring. It added about $1,400 to the trip – money well spent – read on….

August 2017: Dry Run of the Equipment

Throughout August preparations continued. The Microham Keyer II was purchased to drive the RTTY and other digital modes on the K3 and we took the vertical antenna out for a field test during the domestic WIA Remembrance Day Contest. The first test contact I had on the antenna told me how well it was working when I worked AL3/AA7CH on IOTA NA-042 on 30m over 10,000km away! Throughout the contest I also compared reports I was receiving on my horizontal dipoles to the vertical, and except for stations closer than 1,000km everyone reported better signals on the vertical. It looked like the gear selection was complete!

About this time I was starting to get inquiries about 80 and 160m operation. I experimented with an ATU on the back of the monopole, but that only worked on 80m. In the end, Steve VK5SFA suggested I take his 160/80/40m trapped dipole to at least have something resonant. I figured I would have enough coconut trees around me that I should be able to string it up, and as I had a couple of spare kg in my weight limit, so I figured why not!

September 2017: Travelling with lots of Equipment

One issue I explored early on was the implications for travelling with high value personal equipment. The last thing I needed was complications at the border checkpoints with import duties etc. Contact with both Australian and New Zealand customs indicated that the best course of action was to take out an ATA Carnet for the equipment. This is the equivalent of a passport for your gear, and is often used by international TV crews for example to transit their equipment through foreign countries.

I was able to arrange a Carnet through the South Australian Business Chamber of Commerce although it came at a price of nearly $600! Still, better to do that than risk being stung for duty each time I transited New Zealand or on re-entry to Australia (although I didn’t need it if only the Australian leg was the issue). I saved potentially $2,500 doing this in taxes I was told. Something to consider if you are taking more than just a basic SOTA style station overseas (I did have multiple transceivers, laptops, linear amplifiers etc so definitely the next tier up). Incidentally, taking the equipment into and out of Niue was no issue if I was staying only on a tourist visa for less than 30 days!

Thinking About Niue General Logistics – Transport, Communications and Meals

The final hurdles involved  finalizing the logistics once on the island. There is no public transport on Niue so renting a car is a must. There are several options available here and all of the companies are happy to arrange pick up and drop off at the Airport. If you would like a recommendation, drop me a line.

Planning for home cooked meals on the island also requires a little forethought. This is where the extra day spent in Auckland was handy. There is a supermarket on Niue in Alofi (about IGA size) and most things are available. If you want meat, frozen chicken, beef and lamb as well as mince and many others is available but be warned it is all in bulk packs (minimum 1kg we found). Some of the travel websites had also warned about the lack of fruit and vegetables. Generally we found most things that we wanted, although non tropical fruits like oranges, apples and Strawberries were less common or not available. It made it interesting trying to get our daughter to try new things. To her credit she did!

In the end, the advice we received and took was to take some bread and vegetables plus your favourite condiments with us (no they don’t sell Vegemite in Niue – or New Zealand for that matter!). Provided we bought them at supermarkets in New Zealand and presented the receipts to quarantine at Niue Airport there would be no issue bringing them in. Bread in the end really wasn’t necessary it turned out as the island bakeries churns out plenty and it is available almost every day of the week. We learned for next time.

NOTE: not everything is permitted and some things are completely banned – notably honey. Check yourselves with the current Niue travel advisories before entering the country. The other observation we made was that our timing was lucky as the resupply ship had arrived the same day we had. We had been warned that if the ship runs late the super market shelves do get pretty bare. In this case, your mileage may vary.

We should also add that we certainly didn’t plan on eating in every night and whilst on Niue we found several favourite places for meals. More on those later!

From a communication perspective, we had determined that we had some Internet access at our house but no telephones. We also learned that Niue Telecom, who runs the GSM mobile service on the island, doesn’t have international roaming. When I went back to my contact there who I had arranged my radio license with, he helped arrange a Niue pre-paid SIM card I could use while on the island. I later found out I was very lucky as when I was there SIM cards were in short supply and weren’t available for visitors when we arrived. In short, you need to go in with the expectation that you are back in the pre-cellular age and simply embrace being disconnected from the world. To me, this was one of the refreshing and most relaxing aspects of being on Niue. After a few days, we really did loose track of what was happening in the world – and discovered that we really didn’t care! The only thing we were happy to have cellular available for was to be able to call and book restaurants for dinner – often needing to be done 24hrs before hand (or they might not open!). Something to remember!

Packing the Equipment

One of my big concerns was packing the equipment up in a way that maximized the chances of it arriving in one piece. The purchase of two Pelican im2620 Storm cases, one to carry the KPA500, Microham Keyer and one of the power supplies, and the other to carry the backup power supply, backup transceiver (an ICOM IC706 MK2G), KAT500 tuner (principally for the low bands) and a set of basic tools solved the problems. The K3 transceiver was taken as carry on luggage as were the two laptops spread across the three of us travelling. We probably pushed the carry-on baggage weight to the limits (and then some) but got away with it. It at least gave me the piece of mind that the K3 had a good chance of arriving unscathed.

To carry the antennas, I purchased a golf bag cover. This was just the right length to take the tripod, two fishing poles (main and spare) and to carry some of the coax. It also was less than the maximum length allowed by the airlines. Weight distribution was a real issue and it did come down to picking which bags to put what in. Coax cable wise I took 30m of RG213 and 40m of RG58. Next time I will take 10 more metres of RG213 or replace it and the RG58 with some RG8X. When we added the food we took into Niue, it worked out that we had probably 3kg to spare across our 6 bags. Enough for souvenirs on the way home (given that we would eat at least half of one bag in groceries over the two week stay <chuckle>).

The Adventure Begins

Departure – Monday September 11th 2017

Departure day was upon us! We headed to the airport with all of our luggage and made our first stop, the customs office, to get the equipment checked out of the country. After getting the Carnet stamped, it was upstairs to check in and the moment of truth. Had we gotten the baggage loading right? Phew yes we had – and our scales at home had been reading high so we had at least 0.5-1kg free in each. That done, it was off for some breakfast and then immigration control before the 11.30am flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

The rest of the first day was relatively uneventful. The flight was smooth and we arrived in Auckland around 4.30pm. Clearing the Carnet in Auckland was easy – after marking our arrival card with commercial goods we were shown to the correct line, and had everything processed without drama. On finally entering New Zealand, we picked up our hire car and headed to our accommodation. Friends had suggested some nice suburbs to stay in, and indeed they were. What we hadn’t counted on was how long it would take to reach by road across the city. Next time we will stay closer to the airport!

Staging in Auckland – Tuesday September 12th 2017

Tuesday was a slow start from our apartment but eventually we headed out to buy the groceries and some last minute spare parts (spare fuses for the power supplies and some spare nuts and washers for the antenna). That evening, after sampling one of the local gourmet burger restaurants in Mission Bay, we had an early night ready to get to the airport by 6.30am the next morning.

Arrival in Niue – Wednesday 13th/Tuesday 12th 2017

The next morning we left at 5.30am and headed to the airport. After encountering a traffic snarl on the airport approach road we finally arrived and could go through the procedure of checking in again. Here is where the works deluxe tickets from Air New Zealand helped. They were able to call customs to the Premium Checkin Counter and complete our Carnet export paperwork there! Priority Check-In is also not to be under valued. After clearing customs we began the wait for our flight in the international departures lounge, wondering what we were about to find.

After another pleasant flight over the Pacific we caught our first glimpse of Niue, a green jewel sitting in a sea of blue. There is a certain excitement as you arrive and catch sight of your destination for the first time! Here we had our first time warp, as Niue lies just over the international date line. We left Auckland on a Wednesday and 3 hours later it was Tuesday again in Niue. Just one more little matter to keep track of on the trip.

After landing, we disembarked down the stairs – no air-bridge here, and went over to the terminal. After passing through immigration we headed over to the luggage trailers and collected our bags. I hadn’t been in an airport where it worked like this since the ’80s back home at the old Ansett terminal in Adelaide.

The full force of tropical humidity hit standing in line to clear customs as there were only a few fans in the arrival hall. Finally we made it through quarantine and then headed over to collect our hire car. When we had made the booking we had asked for the biggest car they could provide that wasn’t a minivan. As you can expect, vehicle selection isnt great on the island, so we ended up with a Subaru wagon. At least it had air conditioning! It was then time to play a 4 dimensional packing game, working out how to fit all of the bags and passengers in and what order to load them in. At one point it looked like I would be making two trips, but in the end, with my wife nursing the case with the amplifier in it, we crawled our way up the coast and arrived at Kaliki. Journey done!

The rest of the day was spent unloading the car, heading back to Alofi for supplies from the supermarket and a trip to Niue Telecom’s offices in the centre of town. There I paid for and collected my Amateur Radio license. They also loaned me a monitor to make operating digital modes easier. I cant thank them enough for the help they gave. A good thing to note here is that their office is manned 24×7 – a surprise really given the opening hours of many other establishments. We then headed back to the house, and with excitement growing started building the station.

The final hurdle then arose. I needed a table! Looking around the house the pickings were slim! In the end we decided to cannibalise the outdoor setting and bring that table into the radio room to solve the problem.

Now I was racing against sunset, and just as the sun dipped below the horizon, the antenna installation was complete. It was then  back to Alofi to find somewhere for dinner.

Here is where we encountered our Niue quirky first observation. There are plenty of places to eat on the island, but many require you to book first, and many are only open certain nights of the week. Just driving up and hoping to get fed, especially when we had yet to determine where they all were, was a challenge! Fortunately Gills Indian restaurant was open and served delicious food. We were set (and they were right next door to Niue Telecom it turns out!)

After dinner we returned home and final station construction began. The moment of truth came when I powered everything up and made some test calls. The amplifier gave me a concern because there was nothing on the display, however it was still working fine. Shortly after the display there came to life too and all was well (and I never worked out why it did that). As it was already long past sunset I started on 40m and found some strong VK signals. First call was to Jim VK2QA on 7110 with 59 both ways and to Rod VK7FRJG with similar reports. Not quite ready to hit out and call CQ I called into the 7130 DX Net and listened for a while. I think I confused net control for a while who heard “E-cho” as “V-Kay” 🙂 Must have been the Australian accent. Finally they worked out they had some DX on the net (chuckle) and away we went!

Later that night I QSYed up to 7181kHz and started calling CQ UP5. This confused a few VKs apparently who perhaps weren’t regular DX chasers and with space on the band limited I settled back to Simplex operation up in the US Generals segment of the band. To do some final testing, I then dropped down to FT8 on 7074 and verified that the PC and Microham gear was working correctly before throwing in the towel for the night. We were on air as E6AG after what had been a VERY big day!

Dateline Niue: Wednesday 13th September – First Day Exploring

Today was our first full day on the island and our first real chance to look around. While the family stirred I started up on 20m FT8 to see what could be worked. Being unfamiliar with conditions this far north I wasn’t sure what bands and times things would be working. My 20m noise floor wasn’t fantastic either (about S5 to 7 most of the time) which was another problem to tackle, especially if I wanted to have some success into Europe. I worked 20m for about 90 minutes before the family was ready to head out and explore.

Our first stop was to head back to the tourism office and gather some local information about the best attractions to go and see. One of the most useful things we received were the tide times! A lot of the reef attractions are best accessed either at low or high tide depending on the attraction. Some of the swimming holes are also better at one or other extreme, so a very useful piece of information indeed.

We then headed across to Vaiolama Cafe (and Mini Golf!) for lunch before stopping past Utoku Reef to assess a potential swimming hole. Then we drove back up to Namukulu and took a look at the Limu pools.

We had heard much about this swimming and snorkeling location. For us however it was not ideal. Getting in and out looked difficult and really didnt suit Amelia who was still learning to swim. To top it off, here was the site of Amelia’s first brush with the sharp coral rocks found all over Niue. After a badly scraped knee, she wasn’t keen on going back there for the rest of the trip.

Ham Shack Setup on Niue

We headed back to the house and applied some first aid. I then hit the airwaves for a few hours working 20m FT8, a little SSB (although by now it was dawning on me what a problem the noise floor was going to pose). It was during this afternoon run that some cracks were starting to appear in the station too. Receive started failing several seconds after the end of each transmission. Early investigations showed that if I didn’t run the amplifier in line the problem didn’t occur. I started dreading the worst, and spent the next few sessions running barefoot.

Sampling the Islands Restaurants

That night we headed out for dinner. One of the restaurants in Alofi, the “Crazy Uga” did a burger night only on Wednesdays that the brochures said was not to be missed. Well, apart from a great view overlooking Utoku Reef, the nearly home made burgers were fantastic! We even got Amelia to try her first burger, albeit cut down to the bun, patty and some sauce. Crazy Uga’s is definitely not something to miss while on Niue and congratulations must go the family who run it who do a great job!

On the way home we again saw these moving shapes on the road. This time we stopped alongside one to take a look, and to our surprise it was a very large crab. We made sure we didnt run over any while on the island. Once we had settled Ameila to sleep, I activated 40m SSB for a short run then back to FT8 into the early hours of the morning. Not a big radio day but it did set the pattern of late nights while the family slept.

Dateline Niue: Thursday 14th September

Thursday morning broke and I started out with some 15m digital on FT8 before switched to 15m SSB. Plenty of Japanese stations as well as some North American and Australian signals. One notable one was a contact with a friend of mine, Adrian VK5ZBR, who tried FT8 for the first time – acoustically coupled – and succeeded in making it through.

While still puzzling over the amplifier issue, it was time to take a break. I pulled the covers off and started looking for anything loose that might be interrupting the PIN diode TX/RX switching supply (which is a 270v DC line in the amplifier – take great care around this!) thinking this might be the cause of my intermittent receive issue. After poking around the tightening up the 270v feed which seemed a little loose, I put the covers on and took it back to the shack. Alas – no real improvement. Resigned to my apparent fate, I then set about erecting the 160/80/40m dipole in the surrounding Coconut trees.

Rigging the dipole among the coconut trees

Erecting Wire Antennas

Having not brought anything else other than some rope and string, I started using local implements (the coral rocks were a good choice) to add some weight. After about an hour or so of realizing what a lousy shot I was, I finally managed to string the dipole across the yard. Time would tell that evening whether it would work or not.

I then headed back into the shack, checked the tuning of the new antenna, which was fine, and then waited for dark to see how effective it would be on 80/160m.

Back on the Air

Meanwhile, I decided to give 10m a try. I was rewarded with a short run of JA plus one US West coast station on FT8, before I went back to 20m. It was during my further activity on 20m that I started to really notice problems on receive. After each transmission, the noise floor would drop after a few seconds and the radio would appear to become deaf again. I called up one of my close friends in Adelaide, Matt VK5ZM and we discussed the problem for a while (as he had helped me with an earlier fault with the amplifier which appeared on the surface to be the same) as I found if I ran barefoot 100W that the problem didn’t generally occur. However that didn’t last and eventually the problem started showing up at 100W as well.

I then had a contact with another long time friend, Garry VK5ZK who related a story of problems with high power causing antennas to go intermittent. I had a light bulb moment as I realized I could be having problems with the way the coax is coupled onto the driven element. After some island bodging with the spare parts I had brought I changed the way the coupling was done which improved things. Finally after further probing I picked that a barrel connector I had in the feed-line was the culprit. Upon replacing it, everything sprang back to life and we were back with full QRO! A definite sigh of relief…

Dinner this evening was home cooked sourced from local Niuean and imported food we brought from Auckland. Renting a house with a full kitchen definitely was a positive, especially staying up at Namukulu as it was about 20mins to drive back to Niue (dodging the coconut crabs on the road at night). The home made pasta sauce and spaghetti was delicious and receive the grin of approval from Amelia too!

After sunset, it was time to give 80 and 160m a run. Using FT8, my first contact on 80m was a “local” with Phillip 3D2TS answering my call from Fiji. After a number of contacts then with Japan, Australia and Brazil I QSYed down to 160m FT8 to see if the system was working there. My first reply came from VK4CMV, proving I was at least radiating something! I tried to work VK5SFA as well, however we couldn’t make it. The thought was that perhaps the antenna was not oriented sufficiently towards Australia. A plan was hatched the next day to try and move it to see if we could improve things.

The next appointment was a planned scheduled contact with home on 40m. Chris VK5CP setup his 40m remote station in the carpark outside the Amateur Radio Experimenter Group’s meeting hall back in Adelaide. Over the next 30 minutes we worked 18 members of the club. These were by no means difficult contacts but it was great to hear some voices from home.

After the club QSOs I returned to 80m FT8, working stations from all around the Pacific, before giving 40m RTTY a run. 47 contacts later over 2 hours and we wound up operations for the night.

Dateline Niue: Friday September 15th

First up on Friday was my second attempt at shifting the antenna for 160/80m. After more bad throwing and lots of walking back and forth, I managed to swing the antenna about 30deg to direct more energy towards Australia. I started early on this, about 7am, so as to beat some of the heat of the day and by about 9am it was done. It was then family time, and so we didn’t make it back on the radio that morning.

This was also the day we finally decided to give swimming a try. We packed our things and went back to Utoku reef in Alofi where there was a small beach and sandy bottom swimming holes among the rocks and coral. Carefully (after the incident at Limu pools with Amelia) we climbed down the sea track to the beach to find that we had it almost all to ourselves. This is what touring places that are “off the beaten track” can reward you with. Amelia donned her flotation vest (she is still very much learning to swim) and mum and dad waded into the rock pools with her. What a grin!

For lunch we then headed back towards Namukulu for our first encounter with the Hio Beach Cafe. I say first because it most certainly wasn’t our last. They offered a range of cuisine, with a strong seafood bias. Talking with the staff about the menu and my own love of seafood, they steered me towards their locally caught tuna. What can I say – I’m now ruined. There is nothing quite like fresh seafood and the fish they served and prepared was delicious. This is definitely a must visit destination and whats more, it was 5 minutes down the road from our holiday home!

Back on the Air!

After lunch we settled down with Amelia playing outside and the rest of the family relaxing. I then came up on 15m RTTY for a while, again easily working a string of Japanese stations as well as NA, SA and Australia. After a while I moved back to 20m, first on FT8 and then on SSB. I really was struggling on 20m however as there was a local S5-7 noise source I couldnt find that rendered 20m almost useless. It contributed over the first few days to no contacts at all with Europe. The terrible solar conditions as a geomagnetic storm raged didn’t help either.

After another home cooked dinner, I tuned to 30m, again running FT8 for a few contacts before moving down to 40m until about 0900.

Tonight was going to be the next big test of 160m, as earlier in the day I had been contacted by JA2WYN and had been asked if I could run Split Frequency for Japan, with my station transmitting on 1840kHz while the Japanese amateurs transmitted on 1908kHz. I had some doubts with the efficiency of my antenna on that band, but none the less we gave it a try. After announcing on the cluster network what we were doing, I called CQ JA E6AG AH51 on 1840, and listened for responses on 1908kHz. A happy grin broke out when I was answered first by Tom JA2WYN, followed by JA2NDQ, then JA4DND, JA4OZR, JA1RTX, JH4UYB and JE4CIL! Certainly that was the first time from anywhere I had worked Japan on 160m, and I suspect it gave a new band to most if not all those who worked me!

160m dipole just visible between the coconut trees

I then made a few more contacts on 20m and 80m before calling it a night at 1220z (1:20am).

Dateline Niue: Saturday September 16th

160/80m dipole in the coconut trees – house in the distance

Saturday turned into another day for playing with antennas. Having realized I wasnt going to get anywhere with my S7 noise floor on 20m I started loooking for alternatives. Moving the 160/80m antenna the previous day had forced me to move the high band vertical as well, and that had quietened it down a little (it was now more S5 than 7) which suggested something in the house was the source (we never did find it mind you). Moving the dipole closer to the house on the second day had also increased the noise floor on 160/80m too. So out we tramped again and looked for somewhere we could get the antennas much further away.

After moving things around again and juggling available coaxial cable, I managed to find a location where the low band dipole was ~40m away from the house and facing end on to it. I was instantly rewarded with only thermal noise in the receiver at S1 – hooray! Then while band switching with that antenna still connected I stumbled what I thought was a closed 20m band only to discover S2-4 FT8 signals a plenty.  Ah-ha! Another light bulb moment.

After again bodging one of the cables I had brought, I was able to make an adapter that let me plug the low-band dipole into the Rx Only antenna port of the K3 Tranceiver, while leaving the vertical on transmit. Now I could finally hear! Contacts with Central America, the USA and South America rolled in across 20m, now running with my new S1 noise floor. Despite it being a non resonant antenna on the band, for receive it didn’t matter. The meter didn’t move much, but it didn’t have to to be able to clearly hear many new stations for the first time! As confidence grew, I moved up to 20m SSB again and made another 24 contacts before having a break.

Amelia at Kai Ika

Dinner – Japanese & New York Pizza?

We then broke for dinner and headed back into Alofi. This time we visited Kai Ika Restaurant. This establishment had a split personality serving both Pizza and Japanese dishes, both of which it did very well indeed. Another one I would recommend if you are spending any time in Alofi. Our daughter loved the Pizza here too!

Back on the Bands

After returning home I set up a run on 30m FT8, before firing up on 30m RTTY at ~0800z. I picked a fairly low frequency around 10132kHz as there was a loud commercial signal around 10145kHz that would have made it difficult to run above 10142kHz. Nearly 50 RTTY contacts later in the space of an hour and it was time to once again try 20m. I then ran achieving my first contact with Eastern Europe.

I stayed on 20m until 1030z when I had a schedule to try 160m again with Steve VK5SFA. This time I managed to work VK5BC, but Steve VK5SFA and I failed again to make contact. We weren’t being helped that night by the very high tropical QRN 160m either. I gave up early and went to bed, with the idea of taking a look at what the very early morning conditions would bring.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

This marks the end of the first week away from home. So far we had been travelling for 3 days, building the station, battling technical issues, messing with antennas, solving problems of electrical noise, and had done some sight seeing to boot. Contact with Pacific Rim nations had been achieved but very little had been seen from Europe. Now with the antennas optimized as best as they could, given the circumstances, we were poised to strike out and be heard around the world…

In my next installment, I will introduce some of the other sights of Niue, and reveal how we went contacting Europe and talk about some of the other low band excitement we had!

73 de Grant VK5GR / E6AG